While no one disputed the importance of other county races, seven candidates for two Miami-Dade County Commission seats on Nov. 2 provided most of the pre-election “buzz” during a Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations (KFHA) forum on Aug. 2.
Miami-Dade District 10 Commissioner Javier D. Souto greeted long-established friendships before the forum got underway, later describing his intention to “keep services at high levels without raising new taxes” before a packed house at the Kendall Village Center meeting pavilion.
“Continuing liaison with community organizations has always been necessary to reflect the voice of voters and is crucial to acting in behalf of the people,” Souto said.
The commissioner, whose service began in the Florida House and Senate from 1984 to 1992 was first elected to the Miami- Dade Commission in April 1993, followed by reelections to four consecutive terms from 1994 to 2010.
Miriam “Mimi” Planas, seeking to oust the incumbent Souto from his seat, attacked “entrenched commission seats in a fight to establish term limits so that our communities can look forward to a new generation of leadership.”
Their initial remarks led the second of three KFHA forums, including a third set for Sept. 13 for runoff candidates who survive the Aug. 24 primary balloting.
The nearly three-hour session heard from five of seven candidates seeking Katy Sorenson’s District 8 commission seat, including Eugene Flinn, Albert Harum- Alavarez, Obdulio Piedra, Lynda Bell and Daniel Marmorstein. Annette Taddeo and Jason Culler did not attend.
Prior to their appearance, Planas sharply criticized approval of the county’s $400- million-plus participation in the new Marlins baseball stadium “as too much wasteful spending during an economic crisis,” adding “this commission treats a million dollars like a $10 bill.” She will direct her attention to “helping small business survive” as her first priority.
Saying he had “no problem with term limitations,” Souto defended the stadium expense, noting the project is creating up to 5,000 new jobs while bringing new expertise of specialists as well as workers to help the economy. Use of tourist bed tax revenues instead of county property taxes justified building a new facility to replace a “dilapidated and outdated Orange Bowl,” he stated.
The stadium issue was quickly picked up by District 10 candidates when Marmorstein said its approval was “nothing more than commissioners once again padding the pockets of their cronies.” He likened that decision to “one just as bad when the legislature backed offshore oil drilling.”
Harum-Alvarez said, “the poor Stadium decision” has resulted in the “distrust people have with government today,” underscoring that “no matter what may precede the votes, they always wind up in favor of developer projects, something Katy Sorenson was often the lone ‘no’ vote in 12-1 decisions to protect the Urban Development Boundary.”
“While not legal to stop stadium construction, it shows a misdirection of county government which would have been better off expanding Miami Beach Convention Hall to attract more business,” Piedra declared.
Former Homestead Mayor Lynda Bell said projects like the stadium could “benefit from the same efforts I initiated in Homestead by establishing informative links with builders and developers so they were aware of citizen concerns.”
Palmetto Bay Mayor Flinn said any expenditures “need review in the light of what can be done in Tallahassee” where he had personally lobbied in behalf of his village’s interests, adding the fight should now turn to recovering $80 million “lost when the state changed apportioning funds,” severely cutting back Miami- Dade’s revenue sharing.
All five indicated they would not oppose term limits for commissioners although Flinn emphasized, “you can’t turn the clock back to 1991 thinking” and calling for “a three-year review of budgeting processes,” if elected.
In a less provoking exchange among Miami-Dade School Board District 7 candidates, the group united to pledge “support of children” before any other constituency, each with different philosophical approaches.
“Students, like myself, must come first,” said Juliana Velez. who wants to replace Ana Rivas-Logan, now running for the legislature, while Libby Perez emphasized the need to “provide more respect for teachers.”
“I’m just a new father and not an ‘insider’ to politics,” said Carlos Curbelo, who wants to give teachers the same on-the-job benefits all other government employees receive. The sentiments were echoed by Nathasha Alvarez and Eddie Barea. Five candidates for School Board District 6 failed to show at the session.
Community Council 11 chair Patricia “Shannen” Davis, opposed for a second term by John Arrien, reminded voters that zoning decisions “made every month in this same hall were the real grassroots protection of their property rights.” Council 12’s chair Elliott Zack, unopposed in November, was present but did not speak.